A few weeks ago, we gathered at the Georgetown University chapel for my son’s wedding. Georgetown is a Jesuit university. Our children grew up in the Presbyterian church but my son’s new wife is Catholic. So, he had to jump through a few holy hoops before finalizing the “I do’s.”
This is not unfamiliar to us. My wife’s cousins are Catholic so we know about some of the differences between their traditions and ours. For instance, at Catholic services, we see people making the sign of the cross but we don’t always understand when to implement these particular hand signals. So we just bow our heads until we hear the commotion stop. Clearly, their services have much more physicality than the Presbyterians, who by the way, are often referred to as God’s frozen people.
Speaking of physicality, I’m pretty sure I tore my meniscus during a Catholic wedding. I was not prepared for all of the kneeling. During one of the rise and fall sequences, I felt something tear in my knee. For the record, if it had happened during one of the tent revivals I attended in my youth, I could have been healed before the end of the service.
And lastly, we know that we can’t participate in the Eucharist, the Catholic version of what we call communion. When it comes to that part of the service, we Presbyterians just stay in our seats. The usher comes to our pew and gives us one of those questioning eyebrow raises as if he’s asking, “Protestant heathens?” We simply nod back and wink as if to say, “Amen, brother.” He offers a compassionate smile and moves on. So, needless to say, we’ve grown accustomed to these customs.
The priest at our son’s wedding was Franciscan. That’s the religious order within the Catholic Church that tends to be more contemplative and to an outsider, their theology has a hint of Buddhism in it. They’re no less Catholic but just a bit less formal. The priest, clad in Birkenstocks, started the homily (sermon) by saying that since he was at Georgetown, he wanted to keep in alignment with the highly intellectual style of the Jesuits. He then said, “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.”
We all laughed. I gave him a Presbyterian wink.
He went on to suggest that the Jack and Jill rhyme was about the partnership between the two characters. He noted that Jill did not leave Jack to deal with his crown-breaking experience on his own but instead, tumbled down the hill after him—because she was his partner. In these current times, we could also embrace a story where Jill fell first and Jack came tumbling after. In fact, we might even see Jane and Jill going up the hill. But the main point of the metaphor was that the relationship was a partnership, even when things get difficult.
It was a good message. And as I sat there in my father-of-the-groom seat, I thought back to my own wedding. Everything turned out great but we did experience what might be called a partnership breakdown leading up to the wedding.
Wendy and I were to be married by her childhood pastor, a Presbyterian minister in the town where she grew up. Her parents no longer lived there and had chosen to have the wedding at an Episcopal church across the street from their new house. Although her former pastor was welcome to perform the wedding, we were required to participate in three sessions of pre-marriage counseling with Father Bob, the priest at the Episcopal church.
At the time, I was fresh out of social work school and was quite proud of my newfound liberal mindset. For instance, when we were reviewing the wedding vows and Father Bob got to the part where Wendy’s father was supposed to “give her away,” I suggested that no one was “giving” her away and if anything, I was “taking” her. To his credit, Father Bob nodded with understanding but asked if he could offer another perspective. He explained that the “giving away” phrase was a symbolic way of telling the parents that they were no longer the primary relationship for their daughter and that they needed to allow her new partnership with me to evolve. In other words, they should be butt-out-laws rather than butt-in-laws. I think Father Bob said it much more eloquently, but you get the point.
A couple of weeks before our wedding, after a meeting with Father Bob, we made an appointment with the Presbyterian pastor to discuss the flow of the service. When we arrived at his office, he seemed surprised to see us as if he had forgotten the appointment. Nonetheless, he led us into his office and as we were sitting down, he said, “I’m so glad you came in today. Unfortunately, I am not able to do your wedding. A conflict came up on my calendar and we’ll have to find someone else.”
Now, I’m not a violent person. And we were in a church. But I just about blew a gasket. I think Wendy thought I might just lunge across the desk and put this guy out to “pastor”. So she calmly placed her hand on my knee and pressed firmly until my hell and brimstone had passed.
Oblivious to the blatantly poor timing, the pastor said he would call Father Bob to see if he could perform the wedding. But here’s the odd thing. He made the call with the telephone speaker on…in front of us…without Father Bob’s knowledge! I bet if there was an eleventh commandment, it would say, “Thou shalt not placeth someone on speakerphone withoutest their permission.”
Anyway, when he explained the situation, our dear Father Bob said, “Well, they are such wonderful young people. Even though I’m supposed to be out of town that day, I’ll come back so I can do the wedding.”
Our hearts melted as he uttered those words. And two weeks later, when he gave a beautiful homily of his own, we realized that things do work out for a reason.
Whether it’s Jack and Jill, husband and wife, or Catholic and Protestant, relationships are partnerships. In fact, when you think about it, every encounter in life is a partnership. We metaphorically make a vow when we interact with someone else. And if we honor that vow as an investment in the relationship, even when we tumble, we might just find that our interactions and our lives end up happily ever after.